« RTI and Special Populations | Main | Stimulus Dollars for Professional Development »

Teachers Lauded for Refusing to Give Tests


I'm sure you may have heard about two teachers in Seattle who were suspended for 10 days without pay for failing to give tests to their students with severe cognitive disabilities.

Lenora Stahl and Juli Griffith each were suspended for 10 days without pay for not following through with training and reports required for the Washington Alternative Assessment System (WAAS), a version of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning intended for students with special needs.

"I understand that you are taking this position as a matter of principle," says a March 2 letter to the teachers from Seattle Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. But because giving the test is a state requirement, "you as a member of our staff have a responsibility to do so."

Full story here.

The teachers say they were following the verbal and written request of the parents, who didn't want their children to go through the testing because the tests are too hard and stressful.

I know that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act allows for different types of tests to be given to students with severe cognitive disabilities, so I started poking into the requirements of the test that these students would have been given, the Washington Alternate Assessment System. The state has a brochure (pdf) available for parents to learn more about the WAAS.

On paper, it seems like these parents' concerns could have been eased; the WAAS is supposed to be "meaningful to the individual student." But the teachers say that it's still grade-level based and thus inappropriate. I find it interesting that the story noted that the children had been tested before and received "zeroes;" I didn't know that it was possible to receive zeroes in a portfolio-based assessment, like the one used in Washington.

This isn't the first time teachers have expressed concerns about the alternate assessments used for student with severe disabilities. The general issues are that they are time-consuming and don't measure what a student can realistically achieve. Resources for educators can be found at the federally-funded National Alternate Assessment Center, which hosts a repository of reports and Powerpoint presentations on the topic.

In the meantime, I'm interested in what readers think. Did these teachers do the right thing?


I teach students with severe and profound intellectual disabilities and I have to give a similar test. Yes I complain about doing it, it is a lot of work but there are ways to access the grade level standards through the student’s individual goals and objectives. I use this opportunity for my students to interact with the general education population and I try to create great experiences for them so that my students are not stuck in my classroom doing the same thing day after day and year after year. I look at this new testing system as a way to encourage teachers to step out of their comfort zone and create new opportunities. I think these teachers should have allowed their students the opportunity to access their grade level curriculum. There are better ways to go about trying to get the testing system changed. After lossing a student this year to his disability I did go through the stage of asking why can we not just love them and not make them do things that they don't want to do. Then I looked at the faces of the rest of my students when they were allowed to experiance new things and that brought me back to working with and helping these students make the most of the life that they are given. Please teach these wonderful students.

I do not feel that the teachers did the right thing. I also do not agree with testing certain populations but when these teachers signed their teaching contracts, they agreed to follow school policies, regulations and state and federal laws. If they didn't agree with these stipulations, they should not have taken the job. By their actions, they are not being good role models for students who do not agree with the rules. Instead, the teachers could run for public office, write letters, and advocate for their students appropriately.

The parents of these students opted their children out of testing. Period. The teachers followed the verbal AND written requests, which parents have a legal right to. Ignoring those rights is illegal. The teachers have written letters and have been advocating for their students and they have been ignored. The students in this classroom have access to grade level curriculum but expecting them to understand fractions when they are not cognitively able at this stage in their lives and then testing them on it is discriminating. It's discriminating to the students AND to the parents. Not all students function at the same level and tests are not appropriate for all students. Perhaps some states have created alternative assessments for students with multiple disabilities that are appropriate, authentic and use the IEP's within the assessment. The state of Washington, however, has not.

By the way, Candis, you shouldn't have to use a test or assessment as an opportunity for your students to interact with the general education population; they should have that opportunity regardless. Stepping out of one's comfort zone to create new opportunities should happen every day; not just when someone says "federally mandated". The "better ways" that you speak of for getting a testing system changed have been tried. Speaking to administrators about how to make our students' learning opportunities richer has come to no fruition. We too, lost a student to his disability this school year and feel the same way that you do when you look at the faces of your students. That is why we create new opportunities for our students constantly and not just when we are told to. That is why when parents ask us not to test their child, we honor their requests.

Hi Lenora, thanks for commenting. Where do things stand with your situation now? Are you back in the classroom? Is the state or the district doing anything to address the concerns raised by this situation?

Comments are now closed for this post.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments